Will the 2012 NBA Finals feature a Kobe Versus LeBron match up? Only time will tell. But before that can happen, the Lakers may need to make some Moves.
With a team that has a projected payroll of $95 million in 2011-2012, picking up some bargain free agents may be the best way to get some fresh legs and bring Kobe Bryant back to the Finals.
With fans dreaming of trades involving Dwight Howard and Chris Paul of the Orlando Magic and New Orleans Hornets respectively, the front office of the Lakers needs to be proactive. They cannot afford to wait for these opportunities, because their championship window is closing.
Kobe isn't getting any younger, and neither are Pau Gasol or Derek Fisher. The Lakers need an infusion of youth, and they may just get it through the Free Agent Wire.
So here are the top five free agents that could realistically help the Lakers in the 2012 NBA season.
A scrappy player who would shoot the ball and spread the floor.
Mike Dunleavy is most definitely not a young player, but he may be the cheap veteran shooter looking for a championship that the Lakers could realistically pick up.
In the past 2011 NBA season he averaged 40.2 percent on threes (which is within the top 30 shooters in the NBA), and scored just over 11 points a game.
Coming off the bench, Dunleavy can be a threat to spread the floor and hit some open threes. Furthermore, he grabs about five rebounds a game and can play scrappy defense when needed.
Dunleavy most certainly isn't the sole answer to the problems the Lakers are having, but in being enticed by the chance to win a championship alongside Kobe Bryant, he could sign for a very low market price.
If the Lakers sign him, their bench unit is freed up as Odom is allowed to attack the basket more so along with Barnes instead of becoming a stagnant perimeter team. With a player like Shannon Brown possibly coming off the bench as well, Dunleavy can be a bail out perimeter jump-shooter for a Laker bench squad that never really developed a flowing offense.
Although he may not be the first choice to sign, he is a solid pick up who can shoot the three and spread the floor.
Carl Landy showed what he is capable of in the past playoff series between the Hornets and the Lakers.
Carl Landry in a very interesting player that may be sought out by many teams this off season. However, if the Lakers were to pick him up, he could flourish in the newly implemented Mike Brown defensive system and give the Lakers a very formidable bench, or even start over Artest.
Landry is a 6'9'' power forward who is only 27 years old and likely at the peak of his NBA career. After averaging 15.8 points and five rebounds and playing solid tough defense in the playoff series against the Lakers, he most definitely caught some attention.
After leaving such a great impression on the team, we may see the Lakers go out and attempt to sign him, just as they signed Steve Blake, with the memory of his triple-double performance against the Lakers fresh in their minds.
Landry gives the Lakers a great defensive presence and can score, but it may be his size that proves to be most important. In this pickup, the Lakers would have a huge back court with Odom, Bynum, Gasol, and Landry down low.
All four would be able to score, and with Bynum and Landry being defensively-minded, and Gasol and Odom offensively-minded, this may be a great opportunity for the Lakers to establish a truly great inside game, something Mike Brown is familiar with from his days in San Antonio with David Robinson and Tim Duncan of the Spurs.
Plus, with a reliable Shooting Guard in Kobe Bryant still leading the Lakers and Bynum emerging as a growing star, the Lakers can poise themselves to win Kobe another NBA championship.
A tough pickup in Carl Landry could be one of the ideal offseason moves for the Lakers, although other teams will be wanting him, and the Lakers do need to address their point guard need as well; Landy can make them one of the most formidable teams in the league.
Will Smith be able to get the crowd on their feet with his athleticism and emotions in Los Angeles?
Emotion is something that J.R. Smith definitely does not lack, and he could be the spark on the Lakers bench, much in the way that Jason Terry is for the Dallas Mavericks.
At 25 years old, and averaging 12 points, four rebounds, two assists, and one steal per game, Smith can answer many of the Lakers problems. He is young, athletic, and exciting. If Shannon Brown leaves, Smith could take his place as the young and exciting player who swings momentum with his dunks and athletic plays.
We have seen sparks of great offense with Smith, who has gone off for over 40 points before, and he could be a legitimate 20-point threat off the bench on any given night.
Smith has a history of bad blood with Kobe Bryant, which may be an issue for chemistry, but as we saw with Matt Barnes, Kobe is willing to bring in a competitor to make the team better. He is a scorer who is fearless and is made much in the mold of a poor man's Kobe Bryant.
One of the best traits that Smith has is his three-point shooting. At 39 percent he can stroke the three ball, and is able to spread the floor. He is a very unique player who gives the Lakers both of the things that they need to address this offseason.
Smith can become a sixth man of the year candidate in Los Angeles, playing alongside someone like Odom and giving the bench another scoring and ball handling threat, as well as opening up the floor with his shooting from downtown.
The main issues with Smith are his asking price and attitude. The Lakers may not be able to afford him or deal with his issues off the court. Without a coach like Phil Jackson, who calmed Ron Artest, will they be able to handle the drama?
I for one believe it is worth the risk. J.R. Smith can lead the Lakers back to the NBA finals if they decide to gamble on signing him.
Crawford, although someone who may be out of the Lakers range, could become a starting point guard who helps take some of the responsibility off of Kobe Bryant.
At 31 years old, Crawford may not be the solution to the age problems that the Lakers are having, but in being a scoring and distributing guard who can play the one or the two, he may be something that the starting unit really needs.
Against the Orlando Magic, we all saw the capability that Crawford has, as he averaged 20.5 points per game off the bench for the Hawks.
With Derrick Fisher becoming a defensive and offensive liability at times, Crawford may be the type of player who helps change the dynamic of the Lakers starting five. Handing out four assists and averaging 15 points in his career, Crawford can not only score if needed, but also pass the ball to the Laker bigs and Kobe Bryant.
A Sixth Man of the Year award winner who shoots a decent 35 percent from the three-point line, he can also come off the bench if needed, but would fit in well as a starter splitting clutch minutes with Fisher.
This, of course, brings up another plus in his game—he is not afraid to take big shots. With this addition, the Lakers would have multiple players who could come up big in clutch situations and help take pressure off of Kobe Bryant as defenses swarm against him.
The biggest question mark with Crawford may be affordability, as he is one of the better free agents that may be asking for more than the Lakers are willing to pay. However, if they do sign him, he may become a great addition to the roster.
A strong and quick point guard may be exactly what the Lake Show needs.
Aaron Brooks is a restricted FA so it's unlikely, but it's not farfetched that the Lakers could pick him up. An interesting prospect is the idea of a sign and trade involving the trade exception left over from the Sasha Vujacic trade in picking up Brooks.
A young and relatively cheap option at the point, Brooks is very quick on his feet and can shoot the ball as well. He has only been in the league for a few years and can create shots for players. On the Lakers, he could help keep up with faster guards like Derrick Rose.
His averages are only 10 points and four assists per game, but that is in a limited backup role behind Steve Nash as a part of the Suns. Being a small guard who can can shoot the three and facilitate the offense as a part of the Lakers, he may help change the fate that the Lakers suffered this past year against the likes of Chris Paul and J.J. Barea.
With a larger role on the Lakers, his stats should go up, and he should be able to put in upwards of 13 points and five assists per game, exactly what the Lakers need with an aging Derek Fisher.
Brooks may be a defensive liability, but he will likely be asked to simply keep up with other players rather than stop them, as the Lakers interior defense should improve next year under Mike Brown.
The upside with Brooks is huge, and he may be the key to getting Kobe his elusive sixth ring.
Aaron Afflalo is a player who is improving drastically and may be worth a look if other options don't work out.
Here are a few other players who may be worth looking into if the top free agents are taken.
The Lakers may not be able to afford much, but there should be some changes that we see as they look to stay championship contenders.